Thursday, February 28, 2013

Before It Disappears, More Brief Moments

Goglog said most of the 14th Street stretch had been bought by a developer and wouldn't be there much longer, Vanishing New York passed on the news that Applebees and Johnny Rockets were probably headed to Coney Island, and NYU continued to think it owns public land.

There was a story I grew up with, passed around the Lower East Side.  It had happened. In Brooklyn.

A village had been condemned to death by the Nazis.  The villagers picked one person to escape and go tell their story so their deaths would not be in vain.  The man they picked somehow made his way to safety and then to America.  Relatives of the villagers were in Brooklyn and he came and for three days he told the story of the village, the murders, the Nazis.  At the end of the three days, the man died.

We are much luckier than those villagers.   When you don't get shot, sometimes you get to go on to find new ways and create new lives.  But, sometimes, even if you don't get shot, destruction strikes.  I do not want to die after telling the story of my village headed to destruction.  I don't want my village to die either.  But, now it seems more important than ever the story gets told.

Avenue A Bus looks at 14th Street.

Some things have continued on.
The sunset over 37th Street

Allen and Grand.

Back staircases in walk-ups

Real New Yorkers.

But some things didn't.

St. Vincent Hospital, now becoming luxury condos,


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Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Stories From the Crossing

Crossing Delancey on the Avenue A
It was rush hour on the Avenue A which is why the walker lady with the sheitel and a hat had rushed the door in front of the wheelchair who was wearing a cap my dad used to wear.

Everyone chimed in with the bus driver for her to move out of the way, but all she heard was noise until he waved her back.

The old man in the wheelchair only had one leg, one eye, an orthodox beard and one friend as old and hairy as he was who wheeled him into the parking spot on the bus for wheelchairs. 

The 4:30, hurtling down to the East River, was packed, what between the teachers and the kids coming home from school, the hospital workers getting out, the errands being finished, the subway riders transferring over.  The wheelchair's friend moved back a bit,  and hanging out by a pole, pulled out his New York Post and started reading.

The walker lady got a seat from someone, one of the single seats along the windows.  The woman behind her, who was fighting middle age with a vengeance, tapped her on the shoulder.  "Your wheels are on my bag."  The walker lady couldn't lift her walker, so finally the middle aged woman moved it for her, hugged her freed bags and glared at me. 

"What could I do..." murmured the walker lady.  Her accent, I hadn't heard it in years, but it was born of diaspora and several languages, one barely spoken anymore and I was suddenly back in the courtyard with the old ladies chortling in this woman's voice "monkey monkey" when B. hung upside on the railing.

Three tiny girls with huge backpacks of school books teetered in the aisle because the driver, no matter how many tattoos he had, was a cowboy.  The walker lady patted her walker seat.  "You wanna sit here? Come.  Sit, sit."

Yeshiva boys with matching loafers got on.  "Hi Ari, you Ok?  You doing OK?" one asked the man in the wheelchair.  "Yeah, yeah," he said, shifting himself in the chair and going back to staring out the window.

The Puerto Rican woman, my age, jeans and a warm parka, grabbed a sudden free seat across the aisle from the walker lady.   Their eyes met.

Beaming smiles and little waves across small space, the Puerto Rican woman asked, "You OK? You doing OK?"  "Nothing to complain about, nothing to complain about, everything good good," the walker lady said, then asked "You? You OK?" "Yeah, yeah.  Everything good." 

An elderly lady with tons of bags got on and eight people jumped up to give her a seat but she refused, instead gave it to the young woman who was blind instead.  No one had noticed the cane, just the pretty face, nicely made up.   The old lady and the young woman spoke Spanish to one another as polite strangers do.

More people got on, more people said hello to one another, more people got up to give more people their seats.  The African-American man, had to be at least 75 or 80 but only from the gray all over, he was very fit, said no, no, I'm fine, thank you.   Even if he wanted to sit down, that generation? Nah. You don't take a seat from a lady.

The little boys in the back being escorted home from school talked loudly to their earnest moms who shopped at Whole Foods and now filled the Lower East Side privatized co-ops with relief because it was affordable housing to them.  One little boy shouted questions that had words he knew you weren't suppose to shout in public.  "Are you pregnant?  Did the house make you pregnant?"  And his tired mom said, "Yes, that's it..." laughing to her friends.

And then Columbia Street came and the wheelchair and the friend and the yeshiva boys got off and suddenly the bus was empty.

Dana was waiting.

I was only half an hour late and there was much to cover.  Boy, was that bus packed and everybody talking, I said. I'll probably write about it tonight.  Well, she replied, you hear the best stories on the Avenue A.

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Sunday, February 24, 2013

Sunday Memories: Hot Lunch

We were talking about the difference between men artists and women artists when Kosky said, "well, there's much more pressure on women socially."  He wasn't expected to show up or do things or be all available.  He could disappear or send his regrets or not even answer at all and no one would question it.  He was an artist and had important work to do. 

I, on the other hand, had struggled for years to not answer the phone or not show up or not agree to help out.

I thought about that when I pulled out the old skillet this morning.  It was the one I had used several times a week during junior high school.  Home for lunch, I would whip up eggs, dunk in some bread, and fry away on the skillet while Florence kept practicing.  French toast was the only thing, besides a bologna sandwich, I knew how to cook for myself.   

There was nothing unusual about any of this, until much, much later, when I repeatedly heard the anger and judgement about women who chose their vocation over the needs of others.

It made me think of Lucien Freud who was almost herald for his refusal to be part of the many families he created.   His children, at least according to one of his daughters, had to meet him on his terms if they wanted any connection with him.

Cooking up french toast this morning for the first time sine 1972, I thought about how Florence, despite a crippling civil war within, managed to reclaim small spaces in which she could be, not the words of Mom or Wife or Teacher, but herself.  I thought about how in order to save herself, she taught me as much as she could about self-sufficiency and then sent me out into the world quickly so that both of us could survive.

And so, we both did. 

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Thursday, February 21, 2013

Taking Flight Into The Unknown

Elisabeth singing at the Blue Note

It's not just the stolen walks in between chores-jobs-obligations to commiserate about the blank page glaring back at us or sneaking out again to that movie series, not once, not twice but sometimes even three times no excuses or no explanations needed.

It's not getting that the grind of the tour (unloading the van singing loading the van driving to next gig repeat a billion times) beats staying at home hands down any day.  Or being terrified broke freelancing rather than secure full time working so another stab at that blank page can be attempted. 

It's not even understanding the so-call choice of living so precariously and being whatever this is we are makes sense because to choose otherwise would mean you might as well die inside and we both know a whole lot of the walking dead so no thank you.

It's standing shoulder to shoulder or drink to drink in the middle of a brutal night of loss or disappointment and holding the space for better times so writing and singing can still go on even when everything inside wants to stop.

And sometimes it's even more than that.  It's listening to her song unlock my own words and then filling that blank page with a surprising story.

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Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Going Where Its Warm

 Albert is blind.  But he can find love in three seconds flat.

We had just stopped by Social Tees Animal Rescue's new home on 5th Street ("Right by the Police Station" the sign at the old place said).  The Mariner sat down, interested in patting the adorable French Bulldog hopping about.

He never got the chance.  Before anyone knew what was happening, Albert jumped up and made a home in cozy spaces only I had gotten to visit before.

Obviously Albert had never read a romantic novel or seen a romantic movie where if it was Hollywood, after much loss and anguish there was a happy ending you knew didn't exist, and if it was French, after much loss and anguish there was a miserable ending that only made sense to the French or those committed to misery.

No.  Albert knew that love was warm and always three seconds away.  All he had to do was go forward.  And sometimes, that's all you gotta know - with love, with art, with heart, with life.  Go forward to where it's warm. 

Albert isn't up for foster care or adoption, but there's a bunch of kittens, cats, and dogs who are.  Ready if you are for love being warm and only three seconds away.

Jupiter, my three seconds away from love.  That, and any chicken he can get from me.


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Sunday, February 17, 2013

Sunday Memories: History Lessons

Clayton's been documenting the lower east side since like forever.  Because when you can prove it happened, nobody can erase you.

Clayton Patterson at the
Angel Orensanz Foundation on Norfolk Street 

There's no one Jewish story from below 14th Street.   There are hundreds and thousands.  

I am not, as someone once suggested, just like the people on Seinfeld or from that movie about my neighborhood.  Nor were any of the people I grew up with.   My mother, my friends' mothers, were complex people, striving beyond the bad jokes about us.

And now, because of Clayton, there's not just one book proving it.  There are three.

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Thursday, February 14, 2013

Days Like This

photo by E. Lohninger

"One day at a time" is way too long.  I'm only capable of handling 20 minutes at any given moment and that's on a good day.

It is hard to carve and coax love out of one's failed past, broken-hearted role models, and Fred and Ginger movies.  Even An American In Paris offered only fantasy as a road map. (yeah show me a broke artist who picks the poor girl over the heiress....)

But, like time passing or a kid getting taller, its presence, during many twelve hour walks through the city, unfolded imperceptibly until one morning a note sent to a friend recounting the previous twenty-four hours was filled with words like "laughing" and "fun" and "good" and other similar happy descriptions.  There were no recognizable words like "struggle" or "fight" or "confused" or "frustration" or "despair" or "futile" or....

If I hadn't written that note, I would have never known how I had laughed all night (which is just like dancing all night only you get to sit down).   I would have never notice what once was foreign in my life was suddenly present.  I would have never have noticed my life was becoming different from what I had known for so long.

So, imagine my surprise 780,000 minutes later (which is approximately 39,000 20 minute segments) that what once was different now seemed normal. 

Happy Valentine's Day to the Mariner.

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Tuesday, February 12, 2013

A Poem Becomes Her

The picture of her and Baby Boy, snapped quickly with an old Instamatic and real film, has been in each and every old Filofax lugged about in handbags and satchels.  A photo in a phone could never be this loved, bent from being taken out over and over again to show life and love, history and family.

When there is great beauty, there are fewer words.

I keep scooping up pens and cameras, attempting to tell a poem offered by fading light on a city street or a cat's heartbeat, or sorrow and loss, or the inevitable journey people I love take into the unknown.

"There needs to be another word for what we are to each other than family because it is so much better than that," she said recently.

Poem.  Poem works.

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Monday, February 11, 2013


Read the excerpt, The Man Who Didn't Die from Ted Krever's sequel MINDBENDERS2: UNDER THE RADAR

Ted Krever, author
Video by Adrian Garcia Gomez

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Sunday Memories: On The Road

You can't quite see it, but my father, Seymour has a cigarette dangling out of his mouth.

And you may not recognize it, it now quite redone, but this was a stretch along the East River by the Williamsburg Bridge.

My parents always biked.  Not in any special lane, not with helmets or fancy spandex.  Regular shoes or sneakers.  They had sturdy Raleigh bikes, and an L.L. Bean saddle bag and they went places.

Just married, Seymour turned to Florence and said, let's go! Without gear or extra clothes, they traveled for days.  Later, Florence wrote excitedly to the woman she had always loved, telling her that after several days, their clothes had become unbearably dirty.  Seymour went and bought her an entire outfit of new clothes.  Both of them barely out of poverty, this was a big deal.  (Even after my father had a full time job, my sister and I could count on one hand the times we bought new clothes.)

They travel up and down the Jersey shore and all over the city.  They traveled uptown and across, and when I was 12 or 13, I too took to the road on one of their Raleighs, biking to babysitting and soon, on my own, to City College with my violin strapped to my back.  Occasionally, a cigarette dangling from my mouth.  No helmet, no fancy spandex. Regular shoes or sneakers.

Florence quit smoking in her fifties, but she continued to bike into her late sixties until I think the bike got stolen and she couldn't replace it.  That or we sold it or gave it away because she wasn't wearing a helmet and besides, if you walk, you get to eat along the way.

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Thursday, February 7, 2013

Subway Rat

I think that boyfriend in 1977 was complimenting me when he called me that.

But here are the things that are normal:
  • knowing which door to stand at so I could walk straight out to the street 
  • the many ways to get from point A to point B, and if I didn't know, calling Baby Boy (until he was eight years old and got bored with it), because he knew the entire MTA system - buses and subways and could map you from anywhere to anywhere, usually in multiple routes.
  • riding without holding on because it was too crowded and the pole was too far away, not realizing until recently that it was just like surfing, just without the cold water or the sharks
  • hanging out in between cars in the summer because the Lexington IRT never had any air conditioning in the summer, only in the winter, and it had air conditioning in the winter because it never had heat in the winter (that was the 70's and 80's)
  • walking from one car to another, and when the young kid cop stopped me and said "hey that's against the law - didn't you see the sign?" I said, "Oh?  I thought that was just for the tourists."
  • NOT knowing which damn color goes with which line.  They're called the BMT, IND and IRT for fucks sake.

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Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Our Westerns

"He's a cowboy," Florence would hiss.

I'm not exactly sure where she got her terminology.  She was in her sixties the first time she went west of New Jersey.  Maybe, watching westerns as a girl in Bushwick or the Lower East Side, she got the idea that only a cowboy would drive a vehicle reckless and fast through millions of cow-like traffic.

It wasn't until Bucko's blog that it dawned on me that the world of the cowboy was a bit larger than Blazing Saddles and New York City bus drivers.  (I am purposely ignoring the two westerns I was dragged to see in 1981 at the St. Marks Movie theater because they were being screened with irony.)

So, as the M3 bus driver barreled down Fifth Avenue, zipping in and out of billions of cars and taxis and pedestrians and those bicycle rickshaws, imagine my surprise when I heard myself mutter, "Cowboy!" 

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Sunday, February 3, 2013

Sunday Memories: Girlfriends

The cat doesn't understand Dutch and only begrudgingly shares his couch corner with her.   He is tolerating our three decades plus ability to spite over 3000 miles of ocean and land in order to talk non-stop about every single person in our lives, whether we both know them or not.  It doesn't matter.  What we do know is the air and light and sound of each others' city, the laugh of the ex-lover and the cooking skills of the current one, the lilt of a family member's voice, the rubble left from a parent's failure at care. 

She is the one, who after Florence died, gently coaxed, "Don't chew," and each time I returned to that night and redid my actions like it would change history, I would hear her.  "Don't chew," I'd repeat and again let go of my delusion I could make the past different just by raging at it.

There is much to cover in her few days in New York.  In between rationing out dozen of pieces of licorice and taking one of our meandering walks that now illuminates another land than the one she visited in 1982, we re-become each other's diaries.  It is too dangerous to commit to any evidence, in Dutch or English, where we have buried the bodies of our many adventures, unless of course we write it as fiction.

So we recount to one another, relieved the memories will die along with us.  She does the remembering of events.   I do the remembering of emotional processes.  It had been a similar division of work when, as young women, we traveled together.  I could remember how, in the appropriate language, to ask where the auto bus was and she could understand the answer.

Now, we are the old ladies we once peered at when we were twenty-two.  We grumble about young people and their cell phones.   We discuss preparations necessary for illness and funerals.  We say, "Leave that for me in your will" or "I will leave that for you in my will".  We try on much different fashion than we did years ago, enjoying styles that only adults used to wear.   We no longer drink Southern Comfort or Jenever.  Although I'm still open to it.  We exchange, no matter what, breakable heavy objects to carry back to home. 

In the whirl of time, we hold each others' footsteps, the ones we took towards love, through loss and then back into unexpected life again, and we bear witness for one another of how amazing and surprising life turned out to be.

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